Over the course of a typical working week, Margaret Noone could be travelling by ferry to Arran where the wildlife, hills, glens and lochs combine to create what’s been dubbed ‘Scotland in miniature’.
She might drop by Port Glasgow, to homes in Johnstone and Paisley, it may be somewhere she’s never been before or familiar territory to meet friendly faces.
“I never really know where I’ll be next,” Noone says. “This is not a nine-to-five job, which is fine because I don’t think I’d like one. Instead, I see my clients morning, afternoon or evening and I enjoy meeting people along the way.”
Noone is the ‘woman from the Pru’, an adviser from Prudential Financial Planning, travelling to and from towns and villages dotted around a swathe of Scotland. Then, the hard work starts – untangling complicated pensions, planning the best outcomes for her clients’ savings and ensuring that their money works as hard as it can.
“Many bring out a massive pile of paperwork and I work like a detective, sifting through it to get to the heart of what pensions they have, how they are performing, what they’ll have in the future,” she says.
“A very satisfying part of the job is being able to tell clients, who weren’t sure what their options might be, when they can afford to retire which could be sooner than expected. Sometimes they can’t believe it. That’s a great feeling.”
For many financial professionals like Noone, the daily complexities of securely working across a range of different financial providers, platforms and software systems, often transferring large sums of clients’ money and sharing sensitive data, is eased thanks to technology developed in Edinburgh by Origo, one of Scotland’s first fintech firms.
Its innovative Integration Hub creates secure connections, enabling transactions and data to flow with ease, while the firm’s Unipass Identity system has been embraced by about 37,000 staff in more than 8,000 adviser and provider firms.
Using a single, verified identity for users, it removes clumsy processes, avoids the need for financial advisers to remember a raft of passwords and security questions, and creates a far more efficient and cost-effective way of working.
For busy advisers like Noone, whose time is precious, Origo’s Unipass Identity is a daily essential. “It’s slick and it’s very secure,” she says. “I use it every day. It’s a very efficient process that’s good for advisers and clients, it reduces the time to make things happen and reduces paperwork.”
Smoothing the way that financial advisers, paraplanners, administrators and planners interact with financial providers would seem beneficial to everyone.
Yet according to new research, there is still a sluggish approach by some in the finance sector to fully embrace this integrated way of working. And that, Origo argues, is creating inefficiencies and hindering progress.
“The sector can probably double its efficiency if it gets its act together,” stresses Anthony Rafferty, managing director of Origo.
In his company’s recently published white paper, A Disconnected World: The Adviser’s Reality, compiled along with financial services consultants, the lang cat, Rafferty argues that while there is innovation within the financial sector, inefficient processes are making life unnecessarily challenging for hard-working advisers and other finance professionals.
That’s galling at a time when there is clear public demand for guidance through the complexities of pensions, investments and savings.
“Our industry is full of great ideas, innovative systems and propositions which can make a real difference to clients,” Rafferty writes. “But these too often don’t achieve their full potential because the people required to make them work – advisers, planners, paraplanners and administrators – can’t make the case for adding yet more systems which don’t integrate into the existing mix”.
He continues: “The world in which they work is far from connected. The industry needs to do more on really helping the advice industry to operate more efficiently – not coming up with more features and products, but by imagining itself in the shoes of advice firms and doing everything it can to help.”
Launched in 1989, Origo is a business owned by 14 UK financial services groups and with a remit to develop technologies which can support the entire sector. Its Open Standards service, now independently managed by Criterion, has enabled the industry to operate securely and smoothly by using set processes, technical details and data for three decades.
While Origo’s Transfer Service, launched in 2008, enables the fast and secure digital transfer of pensions and investments. A sign of its success was confirmation that transfers recently passed the four million mark. In the 12 months to 30 September 2019, 730,305 transfers were completed, a 26.5 per cent rise in transfer volumes since 2018.
On the ground, financial adviser Andy Pollard sees first-hand how the demands on the profession are increasing, making the need to embrace the efficiencies that Origo’s technology offers, all the more crucial.
There’s demand from all directions – older clients seeking guidance through the pension maze, more product choices, younger clients seeking routes to mortgages and savings, and a willingness among investors to move their wealth in search of the best outcomes.
“My job as an adviser has changed dramatically,” says Pollard, who works with Dumbarton-based True Potential Wealth Management.
“The biggest skill an adviser probably needs is being able to just listen. Everyone’s life is different, and we can’t make the right recommendations to people without listening to what they want to achieve. The other is being able to translate the jargon.”
The True Potential platform makes use of Origo’s technology to help ensure clients’ data and finances are handled in the most efficient manner possible.
“It makes life a lot easier when the other provider also uses Origo,” Pollard explains. “It makes the process of communicating and electronically transferring a lot easier.
“It’s a great service for all parties, the client, adviser and the provider.”
Pollard also uses Origo’s Unipass Identity and secure e-mail services. “In the world of dealing with so many providers and potentially needing log-in details for all, it is a service that really helps.
“The secure mail system is a great tool particularly in this post-GDPR world,” he adds. “Keeping clients’ data secure really is a top priority for all advisers and the industry as a whole.”
Rafferty says that new products devised hand in hand with the sector, which will boost efficiency and security, are on the way early next year.
Meanwhile, he warns that those organisations that fail to take an integrated approach could well end up counting their losses in the long run.
“Financial advisers can transform people’s lives,” Rafferty says. “The amount of work they and others such as paraplanners and administrators do on their clients’ behalf, is extraordinary.
“The increase we’ve seen in our Transfer Service – over 25 per cent year on year – shows the advice business is alive and kicking. People are acting on the advice they receive.”
In Origo’s white paper, Mark Polson, the lang cat’s principal, doesn’t pull punches. He warns that financial services clients would be “horrified” to discover how businesses who fail to offer an integrated approach to their operating systems expect advisers to operate, laboriously rekeying information and using out-of-date methods.
Rafferty agrees and adds: “Advisers can nudge or choose software providers on basis of whether they are integrated.
“We are looking forward to the time when the Integration Hub is fully adopted across the sector when it will be just the way integration is done, and the whole process for everyone will be so much slicker.”
Find out more at www.origo.com
This article first appeared in the Vision supplement in the Scotsman – see it in full here.